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Balkan Report: February 25, 1998

25 February 1998, Volume 2, Number 8

A New Mandate for the Peacekeepers. After months of discussion in Bosnia and in numerous foreign capitals, ambassadors representing the 16 NATO countries plus the other 20 states participating in SFOR reached an agreement in Brussels on February 20 to extend SFOR's mandate. The peacekeepers' current brief expires in June, while their new one will be open-ended, subject to periodic reviews.

SFOR Steps Up Presence in Herzegovina. As NATO moved toward a final decision on the mission, some 1,000 peacekeepers ended five days of exercises in the Mostar, Stolac, and Siroki Brijeg sections of Croatian-held western Herzegovina on February 19. SFOR spokesmen in Mostar said that same week that, in addition to the exercises, peacekeepers stepped up their presence in the area around Stolac, where Croats have on numerous occasions attacked returning Muslim refugees with at least the tacit approval of the Croatian police and civilian authorities. The Stolac police chief has been sacked and the local mayor has been warned that he could be next.

More Croatian-Muslim Tensions. Spokesmen for Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of the joint Bosnian presidency, said on February 22 that the Bosnian embassy in Zagreb had filed a protest with the Foreign Ministry over comments that President Franjo Tudjman made in a speech to his governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) the previous day. Izetbegovic's spokesmen claimed that Tudjman called for a partition of Bosnia along ethnic lines, RFE/RL correspondents reported from Zagreb and Sarajevo. Tudjman is well known for his beliefs that Balkan Muslims pose a threat to Europe both politically and culturally, and that Bosnia should be partitioned along lines delineated by the Croats and Serbs.

Meanwhile in the Bosnian capital, Foreign Minister Jadranko Prlic, who is a Croat and a member of the Bosnian branch of the HDZ, said he knows nothing about the formal protest, which, he maintained, cannot be official without his signature. Prlic added that Izetbegovic is just one member of the presidency and does not have the right to speak in the name of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Dodik Visits Washington. That same weekend witnessed a trip by Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik to Washington, where he met with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, among others. Dodik received a pledge of $5 million in U.S. emergency aid for the Republika Srpska, in addition to $45 million in other aid. Albright's spokesman called Dodik "a breath of fresh air" and noted that "this is a gentleman who seems determined to do the right thing in Bosnia, to see Dayton implemented, and I haven't seen her have a better meeting with a Bosnian Serb in many years of watching such meetings." The spokesman praised Dodik's pledge to help facilitate the return of Croatian and Muslim refugees. As to war criminals, the spokesman said that Dodik "promised to work intensively to facilitate voluntary surrenders, but acknowledged that under any circumstances, all [suspects] must face justice."

Joint Institutions to Emerge? As Dayton moves into its third year, the international community has thus finally found "Serbs with whom one can talk." It has also served warning on the Herzegovinian Croats and their friends in Zagreb to abjure the nationalist excesses for which they have long been known. In recent months the international community has also told the Muslim leadership to clean up corruption and to allow Serbs and Croats to return to Sarajevo. Finally, Carlos Westendorp has intervened directly to settle a host of vital issues on which the three sides could not agree.

But the record of joint institutions remains poor. As RFE/RL pointed out on February 15, not one key problem has been resolved by the joint parliament or presidency without Westendorp's intervention. Dodik's election offers hope that the logjam might finally be broken, but Brcko and other obstacles remain.

Perhaps, however, economics might provide the means to jump-start the joint institutions. Plavsic and Dodik have been able to attain and keep power in the Republika Srpska at least in part due to a widespread popular desire to raise the standard of living in a state with a 70 percent unemployment rate and a $35 per month average income. And representatives of a Muslim-run iron mill in Zenica joined politicians and businessmen from Serbia and the Republika Srpska in talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade earlier this month in an effort to coordinate the revival of their mining, iron and steel industries.

Quote of the Week: "Betrayal is as old as Jesus' times, but in our circumstances we need to inform the public who these anti-Croat lackeys ready to destroy society are. We will not allow Croats to bicker and fight against each other any more." -- Tudjman at the HDZ convention, in an apparent reference to the opposition and the independent media.